Basque mythology

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A reproduction of a Hilarri, a Basque gravestone, from 1736 with commonly found symbols. Tombstone in English: Maria Arros Sagaray died on the 19th day of April, 1736 Obiit.JPG
A reproduction of a Hilarri, a Basque gravestone, from 1736 with commonly found symbols. Tombstone in English: Maria Arros Sagaray died on the 19th day of April, 1736

The mythology of the ancient Basques largely did not survive the arrival of Christianity in the Basque Country between the 4th and 12th century AD. Most of what is known about elements of this original belief system is based on the analysis of legends, the study of place names and scant historical references to pagan rituals practised by the Basques.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, whose coming as the messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with about 2.4 billion followers.

Toponymy or toponomastics is the study of place names (toponyms), their origins, meanings, use and typology.


One main figure of this belief system was the female goddess Mari. According to legends collected in the area of Ataun, the other main figure was her consort Sugaar. However, due to the scarcity of the material, it is difficult to say if this would have been the "central pair" of the Basque pantheon. Based on the attributes ascribed to these mythological creatures, this would be considered a chthonic religion as all its characters dwell on earth or below it, with the sky seen mostly as an empty corridor through which the divinities pass.

Mari (goddess) Basque goddess

Mari, also called Mari Urraca, Anbotoko Mari, and Murumendiko Dama is the goddess of the Basques. She is married to the god Sugaar. Legends connect her to the weather: when she and Maju travel together hail will fall, her departures from her cave will be accompanied by storms or droughts, and which cave she lives in at different times will determine dry or wet weather: wet when she is in Anboto; dry when she is elsewhere. Other places where she is said to dwell include the chasm of Murumendi, the cave of Gurutzegorri (Ataun), Aizkorri and Aralar, although it is not always possible to be certain which Basque legends should be considered as the origin.

Ataun is a town located at the foot of the Aralar Range in the Goierri region of the province of Gipuzkoa, in the autonomous community of the Basque Country, in the north of Spain.

Sugaar Basque deity

In Basque mythology, Sugaar is the male half of a pre-Christian Basque deity associated with storms and thunder. He is normally imagined as a dragon or serpent. Unlike his female consort, Mari, there are very few remaining legends about Sugaar. The basic purpose of his existence is to periodically join with Mari in the mountains to generate the storms.

Historical sources

The main sources for information about non-Christian Basque beliefs are: [1]

Strabo Greek geographer, philosopher and historian

Strabo was a Greek geographer, philosopher, and historian who lived in Asia Minor during the transitional period of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire.

Umayyad conquest of Hispania 8th century Muslim conquest of the Iberian peninsula

The Umayyad conquest of Hispania, also known as the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula or the Umayyad conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom, was the initial expansion of the Umayyad Caliphate over Hispania from 711 to 788. The conquest resulted in the destruction of the Visigothic Kingdom and the establishment of the independent Emirate of Córdoba under Abd ar-Rahman I, who completed the unification of the Muslim-ruled areas. The conquest marks the westernmost expansion of both the Umayyad Caliphate and Muslim rule into Europe.

Aymeric Picaud was a 12th-century French scholar, monk and pilgrim from Parthenay-le-Vieux in Poitou. He is most widely known today as being the suspected author of the Codex Calixtinus, an illuminated manuscript giving background information for pilgrims travelling the Way of St. James. In essence, he wrote one of the earliest known tourist guidebooks.

Mythological creatures and characters

The Urtzi controversy

Urtzi may or may not have been a Basque mythological figure. There is evidence that can be read as either supporting or contradicting the existence of such a deity. To date neither theory has been able to convince fully. [2]

Influencing other religions

The Iberian Peninsula's Indo-European cultures like the Lusitanians and Celtiberians seem to have a significant Basque substrate in their mythologies. This includes the concept of the Enchanted Mouras, which may be based on the Mairu, [3] and the god Endovelicus, whose name may come from proto-Basque words. [4]

Lusitanians ancient Celtic people

The Lusitanians were an Indo-European people living in the west of the Iberian Peninsula prior the conquest by the Roman Republic and the subsequent incorporation of the territory into the Roman province of Lusitania.

Celtiberians tribe

The Celtiberians were a group of Celts and Celticized peoples inhabiting the central-eastern Iberian Peninsula during the final centuries BC. They were explicitly mentioned as being Celts by several classic authors. These tribes spoke the Celtiberian language and wrote it by adapting the Iberian alphabet. The numerous inscriptions that have been discovered, some of them extensive, have allowed scholars to classify the Celtiberian language as a Celtic language, one of the Hispano-Celtic languages that were spoken in pre-Roman and early Roman Iberia. Archaeologically, many elements link Celtiberians with Celts in Central Europe, but also show large differences with both the Hallstatt culture and La Tène culture.

The Enchanted moura or, moura encantada is a supernatural being from the fairy tales of Portuguese and Galician folklore. Very beautiful and seductive, she lives under an imposed occult spell. Shapeshifters, the mouras encantadas occupy liminal spaces and are builders with stone of formidable strength.

Myths of the historical period

After Christianization, the Basques kept producing and importing myths.


  1. Kasper, M. Baskische Geschichte (1997) Primus ISBN   3-89678-039-5
  2. Trask, L. The History of Basque Routledge: 1997
  3. Anuntxi Arana: Mari, mairu eta beste - 1996 - Bulletin du musée basque n°146.
  4. Encarnação, José d’. 2015. Divindades indígenas sob o domínio romano em Portugal. Second edition. Coimbra: Universidade de Coimbra.

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